Stephen Hawking: Why I support Assisted Dying

Jul 21, 2014

By Fergus Walsh


Cambridge scientist Stephen Hawking is backing the Assisted Dying Bill which is being debated by peers on Friday.

The 72-year-old cosmologist said it was “discrimination against the disabled to deny them the right to kill themselves that able bodied people have.”

He said safeguards would be needed to ensure the person truly wanted to die.

Lord Falconers’s bill proposes allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients judged to have less than six months to live.

More than 130 peers have put their names down to speak.

The Bill would enable doctors to help patients die by prescribing a lethal dose of drugs.

Read more and watch the interview here.

31 comments on “Stephen Hawking: Why I support Assisted Dying

  • This is one of those issues like Gay marriage in which the religious impose their will on the rest of us. And yet in every hospital those same people usually consider it perfectly okay to turn off life support for their elderly mother or father or to respect the do not revive wishes of patients. So you can in essence preform euthanasia but you must do so by removing a feeding tube and letting them starve to death (in full knowledge of what that will mean – eventual slow death by starvation) or to remove them from respirators in full knowledge of what that will mean – eventual death by asphyxiation. But to give them a painless injection at the time of the patients choosing? That is murder. Or the more morally upright (IMO) doctors who risk their jobs by deliberately overdosing the patient with pain killers – in full knowledge of what this means death by overdose.

    So we do have euthanasia, unregulated, without procedures to protect the rights of the dying. It’s simple just progress to the point where you are in so much pain (and the doctors can’t bear watching your suffering any more) or the hospitals are so desperate for the beds that the medical establishment is prepared to take matters into their own hands – whatever the patent may feel about it. Great system, thanks religion!

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  • We have such a law in place here in Washington State – “Death with Dignity”. It allows terminally-ill people to choose when they wish to die, and allows doctors to give them the means to painlessly do so. Of course, religious healthcare organizations (mostly Catholic) have been busily buying out all the private hospitals in the state and now own more than 50% of them. These hospitals and their affiliated clinics do not perform abortions, provide contraception, or assist patients who want to die. If the religious can’t force their will on us through legislature, they do it by buying up all the hospitals; apparently the state is having a hard time forcing these hospitals to abide by state law. What good does it do to have such laws if healthcare providers can just ignore them on “religious” grounds?

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  • I am always confused that someone personal existence is considered community (state) property. The universal declaration of human rights in its first sentence recognize human dignity as condition of freedom. “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. … Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”. Personal rights under this declaration says that a person has right to protect herself/himself so that her/his human dignity remains intact. Personal rights are core of human rights.

    And it always bothered me that usa so simple and unscrupulously also deprive other nations (persons) of their life. Only free people can choose. Human freedom is human inalienable right. I think that right to freedom should not be debatable. From my point of view euthanasia is a personal right and someones right of freedom and dignity.

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  • I’ve witnessed 3 medically assisted euthanasia events in hospitals event though we have no law in Australia. All terminal patients.

    A father. Most of the family were present, but one was running late. I was the removed son in law doing the liaison between the family and the medical staff. When the last family member arrived, I advised the staff. A medical person came into the room, spun the dial on the morphine drip from a drop every two or three seconds to a steady stream. 10 minutes later the person was dead. I am a science based person with some forensics skills. I can read the label on the drip bottle. I know what happened.
    My father, terminally ill, on palliative care. The disease was going to kill him. The pain relief had to be increased as the disease progressed. When the pain relief got to a dose of a certain level, it becomes lethal. I can read the charts and I researched the drugs. My father died from an overdose of the pain killers, perfectly legally, but he didn’t die of the disease. This was an example of state approved slow euthanasia. Instead of one big dose, it was strung out of four days to the distress of the entire family. You die of the palliative care, not the disease.
    A relative, with cognitive impairments. To save money, governments closed the hostels that cared for these people and he forced to lived a life as a vagrant on the street, with alcohol, drugs and disease. In his 40’s the kidneys have failed. Dialysis was tried and tried. The moment he felt a little better, he would rip out the tubes and go outside for a smoke. He was a ward of the state, and the Public Guardian was the decision maker. The family was consulted. At the meeting I attended, it was decided that it would be a waste of a good kidney to try transplant. Dialysis was a failure. There was no treatment. He was sedated for 10 days while he died a slow death from kidney failure. State approved slow euthanasia.

    The hypocrisy of the religious that they try to force their personal values on the rest of society knows no bounds. If your god says you can’t take your own life. Fine. Do as your god tells you to do, but don’t you dare try to impose your gods rules on me or anyone else that doesn’t share your faith.

    Religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private.

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  • In the UK there is confusion among theists, with the usual attempts at prevarication:-

    The Church of England (CofE) has called for an inquiry into assisted dying.

    It follows a U-turn by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who said he would back legislation to allow the terminally ill in England and Wales get help to end their lives.

    The current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says the Assisted Dying Bill is “mistaken and dangerous”.

    But the Church said an inquiry would include expert opinion and carefully assess the arguments.

    Speaking on behalf of the CofE, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said a Royal Commission would allow the “important issue” to be discussed at length.

    He said the bill should be withdrawn to allow the inquiry to take place – a call which was immediately rejected by Lord Falconer, the Labour peer who tabled it.

    They have had years to debate this! Why wait till someone else has proposed legislation and then propose an inquiry, – as if it were a surprising new topic they had never heard of before or on which no research had been done?

    Meanwhile in South Africa:-

    Desmond Tutu has said he would support assisted dying for the terminally ill.

    Writing in The Observer he said he reveres “the sanctity of life but not at any cost”.

    He also suggested that prolonging the life of Nelson Mandela had been an “affront” to his dignity.

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  • There were earlier discussions here:-

    The are of course also many god-deluded, brain addled, “Christian Medical Comments” on-line!

    I think it is utterly despicable that politicians, lawyers, judges and some doctors, are making a well paid living out of obstructing the wishes and prolonging the suffering, of the terminally ill!

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  • This is one of the dangers of privatisation of the NHS, as is currently being pushed through by the Conservative party. As it stands, Government owned NHS is going to follow the laws set on this matter.

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  • 8
    inquisador says:

    This is a simpler issue than we are led to believe by the representatives of Jesus (and Mo).

    Human beings are animals, but it seems we are not entitled to the same dignified treatment that other animals are given at the end of our lives.

    This makes me angry. The fact that in the 21st century, superstition, peddled by fools and knaves, is still being used to inflict deliberate pain and misery on harmless innocent people. Unnecessarily.

    Last rites trumping human rights. And not just for the religious, but for all of us.

    Time for change; and right now.

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  • Today I heard an opponent of assisted dying give as one reason for being against it that we’re not animals, and I waited for the advocate of the Bill with whom she was arguing to challenge her on that, but, alas, I waited in vain.

    I wonder why?

    A touch of the rhetorical there.

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  • Stafford Gordon Jul 22, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Today I heard an opponent of assisted dying give as one reason for being against it that we’re not animals,

    I suppose the spoon-fed, vegetative intellect, of the dogmatist, could argue that case with marginal credibility.

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  • There is a non-religious counter argument.
    That vulnerable people who do not really wish to die may be put under pressure to ‘stop being a burden’.

    Although it is easy to say that there will be safeguards to protect the vulnerable what evidence is there that these safeguards will be effective? i don’t think that can be judged until they have been actually drawn up.
    And assuming they can’t ever be 100% effective, that giving choice and dignity to some will cost the lives of others, what evidence is there to say that the benefits of assisted dying will outweigh the costs?

    While I am sympathetic to the needs of those who are suffering due to an inability to end their own lives, I am not ready to support it myself until I can see it properly quantified.

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  • If we are going to legalize “death with dignity” we have to fight for a more righteous procedure of doing so. Lethal injection have gone wrong in so many ways and can be a very painful and drawn out procedure. Philosophically there’s also someone who need to help the patient to inject. Usually family have to leave the room shortly after the injection because of it’s bizarre consequences.

    In a oxygen depleted enviroment such as in a decompression chamber death will occur quickly and before death the patient will feel euforia. Philosophically the patient can walk into the chamber and remove the oxygen mask by themself making them completely responsible of their own death (or help by a family member/friend) and the procedure will allow friends and family to interract with the patient through the whole procedure giving them a last chance to say good bye.

    My friends grandmother were denied death so instead she starved herself. She invited her family for a party to say good bye before she started to starve herself and according to my friend the party was amazing and everyone was happy for her and her decission thou because of the ten days procedure it took for her to starve herself the family got traumatized. They had promised not to visit her during the procedure but for the family it was a very painful time of knowing that she was suffering in time before death occured.

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  • 13
    inquisador says:

    Ah, I see. We are not animals then, because we have souls?

    Does that mean that we must accept lower standards of care than those given to the animals?

    I’m not sure what the theological point is here. So I turned to the online Catlick Encyclopedia.

    There it states that life is given by god. But although we get to use it, we don’t really own it. God does.
    The entry on suicide calls it an atrocious crime against god.

    If you are a dog or a cat then you can do as you wish with your life, but humans lives are owned by god.

    Now listen to me god: you can butt out, you nonexistent old bluffer. My life is all mine. Got it?

    Suicide – Catlick Encyclopedia.

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  • If someone wants to die, I say let them. I don’t distinguish between the reasons – sick, miserable or anything else. One could argue that’s not ‘natural’ to want to die, but that tendency is pervasive throughout our species..doesn’t that make it natural?

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  • 15
    CdnMacAtheist says:

    First let me say hello to RDF friends & that I “Like” almost all of the Comments before mine….

    Also, as a 64 year old with mounting health issues, I hope that Ontario & Canada gets its (political) act together in time for me to get assistance with this totally personal decision when I feel my time is up.

    I’ve been prepared both psychologically & in documentation for this outcome for years, so I hope the citizens in my society can overcome their ‘god-given’, deluded, nosy fervour enough to stay out of MY business.

    I am fairly sane – IMHO – & rational enough to make my own decisions about when I want to return to being star dust, plus I don’t want sky daddy gangs of indoctrinated groupies getting their knickers in a twist about what a-/non-/anti-theist secular humanists do in or with their life.

    I’ve had to endure 64 years of living in 3 countries beside & under religion’s unearned, undeserved & unwanted influences, all in the name of their childish, security blanket grasping, submissive, wishful thinking faithism.

    If & when necessary, I’ll take things into my own hands – using a less desirable method of my choosing – & if any god-botherer gets in my face, I may have to lower myself to their historical level of inhumane, immoral behavior & take them with me…. Mac.

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  • I simply can not figure it out when our lives becomes public property. Why it isn’t mine any more when question regarding euthanasia is raised? Am I not only owner of my body and my life? If I wish to die, why I do not have this right?,… isn’t dying only a part of living, and my freedom? I totally agree with people who wrote that dying is a private thing and no one has a right to interfere in it. I don’t like this rule that I have to ask any institution if I have a right to terminate my existence. Who made this rule and why? Why is my dying business of others and not my own? I think that institutions (hospitals probably) have to offer you a means to cure yourself from life. They have to provide you with a means to stop your life without giving them a reason why you wish it to stop. A service, a cure, like any other.

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  • The 72-year-old cosmologist said it was “discrimination against the disabled to deny them the right to kill themselves that able bodied people have.”

    But apparently not when it comes to indulging in drinking, smoking, eating, drugs, et al. then the right to “kill themselves” is hardly heard at all. Instead the emphasis is about helping save people from themselves. Funny old world.

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  • Hi Harry,

    Think you will find while most on this site would acknowledge the harm these things do they would not stop a consenting adult from doing them provided they refrain from drink driving etc. Prohibition rarely works, and often leads to more harm than good. In the 30’s prohibition in USA they were actually adding poison to various forms of alcohol (like alcohol used to sterilise instruments in hospitals) in an effort to stop people using these to get drunk. Ended up killing more per year than the alcohol was in the first place. Likewise the prisons are full people who’ve done little more than use soft drugs. Glad to see things are changing and many are at least prepared to try something different.

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  • 19
    Jonathan says:

    AFAIK, Dr. Hawking has lived longer than anyone else, after an ALS diagnoses.

    If this is so, there is no other living human with his experience, able to comment on the struggles of his disease.

    I, myself, have a neurological illness.

    I have suffered many years of pain, as a result.

    Perhaps, as Dr. Hawking, I value myself based on my cognitive pursuits. This is where I find my self-worth, as I’m sure he does. In my case, I was born of academic parents. For all of my life, mind has meant more to me than matter. To me, Dr. Hawking is a hero.

    For others, mind is not a consideration. Others are brought up to find worth in their physical selves.

    So, who dares suggest one should be captive to a foreign existence?

    Society and environment make us who we are. How can anyone suggest that one’s life has meaning once society and environment let one down?

    It seems to me to be a question answered, again and again, by those wearing the wrong sized shoes.


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  • 20
    Jonathan says:


    I wish to clarify.

    Dr. Hawking, in my opinion, has a valid position.

    Those who deem to pontificate about the moral implications, from a ‘normal’ existence, do not.

    So? How many lords speak from a size (tracheotomy) tube?

    How many lords know what it’s like to need another to wipe his or her ass? (Those not making asses of themselves, that is!)

    How many lords lose themselves in thought of pure science, because they have been cut off from normal human society? Of those, how many feel self importance because of it?

    Until the Noble House of Lords answers with a number greater than 1, perhaps, they should bite their tongues. They certainly have the ability to do such at will, though rarely by choice.

    What size shoe does a lord wear?


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  • Hi Mac. It’s really nice to see that you’ve dropped in.

    It seems as if bad habits from the past come back to haunt us after 60 years on the planet. I’m paying the price for spending my whole life being a reader rather than a doer. You think that you can get away with it, but at some stage you’re made aware of your own mortality.

    The thought of death doesn’t really bother me and the thought of an eternity in hell doesn’t bother me in the slightest….I laugh at the very thought! But the thought of not being able to end things on my terms is really worrying!

    Many countries have measures in place, but not here….and not yet.

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  • You remind me why I do not believe in human rights. Don’t get me wrong – I am not preaching some sort of fascism. However, the idea of Human Rights is just like Justice, Democracy, Freedom and so forth – cheap words for fabricated concepts that politicians trot out in the pretence that they can actually deliver these things.

    Life is a jungle and I’m your wake up call.

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  • You know, there are countries that don’t have as much justice,democracy and freedom as Western countries. Iran and South Korea come to mind.

    They are not empty words, and while our system is not perfect, it clearly works a lot better with those values then without them.

    The problem isn’t that Justice,democracy and freedom are ‘fabricated concepts’ ( what concept isn’t fabricated ? ) . It’s that we don’t seem to have the balls to stand up for them when it counts.

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  • The idea of being conscious for eternity would be a sort of hell to my way of thinking! An extra lifetime would be nice admittedly, but a trillion x n and then some? HELL.

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  • It is a feature of the compartmentalized “faith-thinking”, that while vehemently denying a dignified death to the terminally suffering, the religious right seems to have no problem with raining down air-strikes on settlements – then counting the dead and injured as “reds”, “insurgents”(often in their own countries), “terrorists”, or “collateral damage”!

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  • It seems like the modern enlightened world is standing up to the irrational and delusional dogmas of “gods  before people”, even in countries like Italy, where Catholicism has previously dominated!
    Italy’s top court has ruled that assisted dying is not a crime if the person wanting to end their life is experiencing “intolerable suffering”.

    The landmark ruling relates to the case of Italian disc jockey Fabiano Antoniani, or DJ Fabo, who chose to die at a Swiss euthanasia clinic in 2017.

    Fabo was left blind and tetraplegic by a serious car crash in 2014.

    His death became the subject of fierce debate in a country where euthanasia is opposed by the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Church, which is highly influential in Italy, sees euthanasia as the morally unacceptable killing of a person and a violation of the law of God.

    The sooner we get rid of antiquated  “laws of gods” –  imposed by priests, and their conniving  political stooges, the better!

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  • Alan #30

    That’s such good news. Unexpected, too – Italy’s pretty much the last country I’d have expected to take this position.

    I have no doubt that there will come a time when the idea of NOT helping the unbearably-suffering-terminally-ill to die peacefully, pain-free and with dignity will seem as outlandish as the idea of operating without anaesthesia. It’s going to be a battle, though, despite the fact polls show that public opinion (in the UK, at least) is very much in favour.

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